Last year when CBS rebooted MacGyver, I was hoping for a show that could do in the 21st century what the original MacGyver did back in the 80s and 90s — which was entertain, inform and provide a fun hour of television with a humble kind of hero.
Instead, what we got was another generic team-based show to add to the abundance of them that CBS screen. They should really have called it Team MacGyver.
I watched through most of the first season in the hopes that it would get better and that they’d allow Lucas Till to do some episodes where MacGyver didn’t have the backup, but unfortunately it didn’t happen — which means Till is MacGyver in name only.
A couple of years back during an interview, original MacGyver star Richard Dean Anderson went on the record saying that they’d not be able to do a MacGyver show now because of modern technology.
I don’t entirely agree with him, however I would say that it is more difficult for them to do a show like MacGyver now — but not because of technology. It’s because of modern television, and in the case of CBS it’s because they want all their procedurals to be team-based, suggesting they lack a bit of vision.
What has CBS got wrong that the original show got right?
What has CBS got wrong? First off, the fact that MacGyver is now heading up a team with a former Special Forces soldier, a computer hacker and an annoying dude called Bozer.
The original MacGyver was a solo operative and always worked best as a solo operative. He was quite a humble character who was an obvious genius when it came to devising ways to escape from tight situations. He seemed to have a trick up his sleeve for any given situation, but he was always humble about these talents.
The new show has MacGyver’s skills pretty much on the mark, but because he always has a computer hacker watching out for him and a former Special Forces guy as his wingman, there is never any real sense of danger.
Also, the new portrayal by Lucas Till starts off more like a Han Solo type than a MacGyver. He seems a little too sure of himself at times and not really all that humble.
Added to this, the former Special Ops guy on MacGyver’s team is a reinvention of Jack Dalton — a recurring character from the classic series, who was more of a lovable loser than he was any kind of soldier. He was a product of the 80s and 90s because he always had some sort of get-rich-quick scheme going on and MacGyver was always pulled into them and would wind up bailing Jack out when he got in too deep.
The new Jack Dalton, who is played by George Eads, is an annoying generic clone who thinks he’s Bruce Willis, likes country music and quite frankly should be shot on sight. This is no fault of George Eads. It is just that the writers have been unimaginative when it came to reimagining one of MacGyver’s most loved recurring characters.
In the original show, Jack Dalton was played brilliantly by Bruce McGill. So right off the bat, Eads was riding a bike up a cliff face with square wheels.
In the new show, it is always the team that goes out on missions. MacGyver gets his opportunity to buy them all time with a clever MacGyverism while the new Jack Dalton engages in gunplay with the villains of the week.
By far the best thing the new show did was getting rid of Patricia Thornton. Patricia, of course, was the new head of Phoenix Foundation. In the original series, it was Pete Thornton and the friendship between Pete and MacGyver was very much the heart of the original show. Pete was like a father figure to Mac, which could only really happen due to the original show being mostly centered on MacGyver.
Patricia Thornton, by contrast, seemed to have absolutely no chemistry with the cast and was written out as a traitor. The replacement Matty, as played by the brilliantly charismatic Meredith Eaton, was a revelation by comparison and has a lot of potential to be the Pete Thornton figure to Mac should the studio see the error of their ways and trim the fat.
The original show was like a humble James Bond who chose not to use guns but was able to get out of most scrapes with a pocket knife, some duct tape and whatever he found on his travels. This worked because when MacGyver was in danger or captured he had absolutely no backup, which meant that he had to make nice with whatever guest star was on that week.
There’s a memorable episode in the first season of the original show where Mac is poisoned and has just 24 hours to find an antidote while bringing the bad guys to justice. In the episode, he befriends a runaway who helps him and in return, he helps her.
The original series started out as a spy show but evolved into a show that dealt with different issues from week to week — issues to do with the environment as well as youth crime. Macgyver would kind of be part spy when asked to do the occasional mission and part social justice enforcer, who with the backing of the Phoenix Foundation would fight for the little guy.
The new show is just about the bad guy of the week. Sure they have brought Murdock back, but the actor they have has nowhere near the presence of Michael Des Barres who originated the role.
How could the new show be improved?
Before I start in with this, one of the things the new show has right is the racially diverse cast. The original series would be an ocean of white faces unless they happened to have a couple of black guest stars on in any given week.
The new show would improve immensely if CBS had the balls to get out of this rut of team-based shows, and MacGyver is the natural show to do this with. I mean, look at the title — MacGyver. It’s about a loner who makes friends and enemies as he goes through his adventures and has a few recurring friends and enemies that pop up maybe once or twice a season.
The first thing I’d do would be to trim the cast down to the point where it is only MacGyver and Matty as main characters. I’d downgrade the others to recurring characters.
The central relationship of the show would be Matty, as MacGyver’s boss, sending him on weekly missions. That way, without all the noise of the other cast members, it would allow a friendship to build that would be similar to what MacGyver had with Pete Thornton in the original show.
When Matty was introduced to the show midway through the first season, she was skeptical about MacGyver’s skills — which mirrored the initial meeting between Original MacGyver and Pete Thornton during the 80s series.
MacGyver being sent out on his own for missions would give a greater sense of danger and allow fans the opportunity to maybe care a little more.
I’d have recurring characters get Mac into situations as well. In the original, you’d see episodes where Mac would wind up working with Jack Dalton one week and the next week he’d be drawn into a situation where he has to help Penny Parker, who was played by Terri Hatcher in the days before Lois and Clark.
We also had episodes later in the original MacGyver series where he’d be working with a family of bounty hunters called the Coltons.
These recurring characters were used sparingly over the course of the series, but when used they made an impression and were appreciated more by the fans. MacGyver’s grandfather had a recurring presence in the classic show and was a very important influence on MacGyver because it was gramps that taught him all about improvising with the tools he had at hand.
I think it would be cool to have Mac’s grandfather show up in the new show, or maybe even switch that on its head and make it his grandmother who taught him everything he knew about improvising.
I want to meet the characters that have shaped this new MacGyver into the person he is. I’m not interested in all the shallow party scenes and so forth at the end of each episode, nor am I interested in Bozer’s goddamn crush on Riley.
As things stand, CBS’s MacGyver is very much the same set-up as NCIS, Hawaii Five-0 and any number of the shows that the network currently puts out.
The new series is very much a throwaway show. I can’t remember a single memorable episode from the new batch, but I still remember classic episodes of MacGyver after single viewings.
I was drawn to the original series because I related right away with the lead character due to the set-up of the show. Whether things change for Season 2 remain to be seen.
MacGyver, or Team MacGyver as it should be at the moment, airs every Friday on CBS at 8/7c.